Saturday, December 16, 2017

Open Doors

We’ve just published a new article, Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? on our main site. We always attempt to write all articles with a good balance of conviction and charity, particularly on articles that may involve polemics and gray areas of the Bible. Although we try our best, we often fall short of the ideal, usually on the side of favoring conviction over charity. This subject can be a very emotional one for those on both sides of the argument, so we’ve attempted to make an extra effort to present a balanced account of the evidence. We mention this article because one of the arguments for the celebration of Christmas is that it opens many doors to share with non-believers about the real meaning of the holiday.

When the Scriptures speak of an open door, the author is often referring to an opportunity to share the gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of Paul’s first missionary journey, he reported back to the church at Antioch how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Ac 14:24-28). He also spoke of a door that God opened for Him at Troas (2Cor 2:12).

In Paul’s final instructions to the Colossian Church, he had a prayer request. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray for us too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should (Col 4:2-4).

Of course, when God opens a door for us, we can almost always count on opposition from adversaries. Near the end of his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes that he plans to visit them soon, but that he will “stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1Cor 16:8-9).

Yet, Paul saw adversity as an opportunity to rely on God’s great strength rather than his own weaknesses. We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many (2Cor 1:8-11).

In other places, the open door refers to access to God, either in fellowship or in a salvific sense. We first see this in the account of the great flood. After Noah built the ark that was a picture of Christ, the rains came down, Noah’s family and the animals entered the ark, and the Lord shut the door (Gen 7:11-16). Just as the open door represented life, the closed door resulted in a judgment of death for the wicked.

Likewise, in the parable of the bridesmaids (Mt 25:1-13), the ones that were not prepared for the bridegroom (Jesus) when He came, arrived after the door was shut. They called out “Lord, Lord, open the door for us!” But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you”. (See also Luke 25:22-30 for the similar parable of the narrow door).

The prophet Isaiah gives us the account of God placing Eliakim as the main “storekeeper” under King David. I will place on his shoulder the key to the house of David; what he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open (Is 22:22). This gave Elaikim control of the palace among other duties and privileges, but the greatest power is that he controlled who had access to the King. He could allow or block anyone from entering into the king’s throne room. In Revelation, Jesus says to the church at Philadelphia, “These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open” (Rev 3:7). Here, Jesus is declaring that He holds the key to the throne room of the Divine King, the throne of Heaven.

So, we see that it is God who opens and closes the doors in all these cases. Yet, there is one case in which we must open the door for ourselves. Going back to the churches in Revelation, Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me” (Rev 3:19-20).

There has been some disagreement on the addressee of this statement. It is in the context of His address to the church, yet he also says “that person”. In addition, the next two verses read To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Rev 3:21-22). These last two verses are obviously admonishing Christians to take heed of what was being said to the seven churches in chapters 2 and 3. If verses 19 and 20 are part of the address to the churches, they are an appeal for individuals within the church to let Him into closer fellowship. If the verses are part of the address to individual Christians, it could be taken as an evangelistic call.

The former interpretation is probably the most likely, however we know that Jesus came to seek and save the lost (Lk 19:10), and that He is the door to Heaven (Jn 10:9). Therefore, when we are called, we must respond to the Gospel by opening the door by faith. If we do so and confess Jesus as Lord, we will be sealed with the Holy Spirit and adopted into the family of God as co-heirs of the Kingdom (Rom 10:9-10, Eph 1:13-14, Rom 8:14-17).

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Pray for our Persecuted Christian Family 2017

We should be praying daily for those who are imprisoned, persecuted, and are suffering for their faith, but Sunday, November 5th is the annual day set aside as a special International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. Below are ten ways that church groups and individuals can pray for persecuted Christians. These prayer requests and photos are courtesy of The Voice of the Martyrs.

The Voice of the Martyrs is a dedicated ministry providing spiritual, economic, educational and other support to persecuted Christians and their families worldwide. VOM celebrated their 50th anniversary last month. Their founder, Pastor Richard Wurmbrand, was imprisoned for 14 years in Communist Romania for his faith in Christ, and his wife, Sabina, was imprisoned for three years. In 1965 they were ransomed out of Romania, and shortly thereafter established the global network of missions of which VOM is a part.

We believe VOM to be one of the most important Christian ministries in existence today. We urge all our readers who are not already supporting this vital ministry to please consider doing so. Anyone can visit their website and sign up for their free monthly newsletter that is filled with inspired stories of faithful Christians risking all to serve their Lord and Savior under the most hostile conditions.

10 Ways to Pray for our Persecuted Christian Family

Pray that they will …

1. Clearly Sense God’s presence

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (Dt 31:6)

2. Know the body of Christ is praying for them

I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being proclaimed all over the world. (Rom 1:8)

3. Experience God’s comfort when persecuted

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (2Th 2:16–17)

4. See God open doors to evangelism

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Col. 4:3-4)

5. Boldly share the gospel

Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. (Ac 4:29)

6. Forgive and love their persecutors

I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. (Mt 5:44-45)

7. Be granted wisdom in covert ministry work

After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. (Ac 9:23–25)

8. Remain joyful amid suffering

So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. (Acts 5:41 NASB) But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear this name. (1Pe 4:16)

9. Mature in their faith

…to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:12-13)

10. Be rooted in God’s Word

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the servant of Goda may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2Tim 3:16–17)

We mentioned above that we should be continue to pray each day for persecuted Christians, not just one day a year. Please visit I Commit to Pray for additional prayer needs and requests.

Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Heb 13:3)

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Avoiding Scams while Helping the Victims of Hurricane Harvey

Natural disasters tend to bring out the best in most people, but the worst in others. For the past few days, most of us have marveled at the tireless efforts of the rescue workers (many are unpaid volunteers) in the wake of Hurricane Harvey's destruction and flooding in South Texas. We couldn't be prouder of our fellow Texans. We are also deeply appreciative of those from other states sacrificing their time and efforts for their fellow Americans.

Unfortunately, disasters also attract predators who typically exploit others for their own gain. No, I'm not talking about the "mainstream" media. Actually, many reporters did a pretty good job in their coverage, although the usual outlets (CNN, MSNBC etc) attempted to add their typical political spin, however unbelievable they may sound to any thinking person. I'm speaking instead of the charity scam artists, who take advantage of the generous charitable nature of people in order to bilk donors of monetary aid that is intended for the victims. It has been estimated that almost $2 billion dollars went to bogus charities after Hurricane Katrina.

The Federal Trade Commission offers the following common sense advice when dealing with Charities:

  • Donate only to charities that you know and trust, and have a proven track record of dealing with disasters. Beware of those who use a very similar names to a well-known reputable charity.
  • Check out the charity with the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, or GuideStar.
  • Avoid those who ask for donations in cash, ask you to wire money, or offer to send a courier or overnight delivery service to collect the donation immediately.
  • Specify the exact disaster that you would like your donation to go toward. Many charities, the Red Cross in particular, sometimes stockpiles donations during a disaster, then moves a portion to the general fund that goes to pay for expenses such huge salaries, fund raising, advertising etc.
  • When texting to donate, confirm the number with the source before you donate. The charge will show up on your mobile phone bill, but donations are not immediate.
You can find many more tips at Before Giving to a Charity.

What about the Red Cross?

The Red Cross began as a Christian organization, but sadly has devolved primarily into a very profitable "non-profit" secular agency in order to work more closely with governmental agencies and large corporations that typically will not donate through the much more efficient Christian charitable agencies. I remember a few years ago when a Red Cross office worker was threatened with termination if she didn't remove an ornament from her desk that contained a bible verse.

After Katrina, a deputy marshal was asked to leave a Red Cross shelter because he was praying with stranded refugees. In addition, an Albany, Louisiana church shelter took in a family who stated that they were kicked out a Red Cross shelter because they were reading from their family bible. The Christian shelter workers thought that there must have been a misunderstanding, until three other families later arrived after being booted for the same reason. No one had complained about the prayers or bible readings, but Red Cross representatives defended the decisions with the usual statement that their shelters take in families from diverse backgrounds, and didn't want to offend anyone (except for the Christians that were kicked out to fend for themselves in the extreme weather conditions).

The Red Cross also has a history of mismanagement, and typically sends a much smaller percentage of donations to the actual victims than the various Christian charities. After a year long congressional investigation into Red Cross activities following the 2010 Haiti earthquake, a congressional committee headed by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley released a report in June of 2016 showing that, of the $500 million in donations for earthquake relief, almost $125 million was spent on internal expenses. Many investigator's questions went unanswered, and the Red Cross was unable or unwilling to explain where the money went.

The Red Cross typically sends a much smaller percentage of received donations to the victims than Christian charities such as Samaritan's Purse, The Salvation Army, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief , or multiple other fine organizations.

This is not to say that the Red Cross does not provide good humanitarian aid, and we certainly would not group them with any of the scammers or frauds. We are troubled by the anti-Christian bias coming from their top management, but we also personally know of many dedicated Christians who are working very long hours with them at the regional and local levels. We choose to donate through various Christian charities because a larger portion of our donations generally go to the victims, but urge our readers to follow their own conscience regarding these matters.

Finally, we'd like to say "Thanks Again" for all those who are helping in so many ways. We also ask for your continued prayers for both the spiritual and physical needs of the victims and the dedicated workers.

Update: Shortly after posting this, we received info from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that many homeowners and renters are getting robocalls stating that their flood premiums are past due and that, in order to have coverage for Hurricane Harvey, the consumers are being told they must submit a payment immediately through various means. DO NOT do this. Contact your insurance agent instead. If you suspect fraud, you can also call the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at 1-866-720-5721.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Marine Recruit Easter Letter Project

Marine Boot Camp - San DiegoWe'd like to alert our readers to a great opportunity to help encourage some of the brave service men who have been injured while training to defend our nation. On the Eve of Easter (Saturday) for the past fifteen years of so, Mike Atkinson of Mikey's Funnies has been visiting marine recruits who have been injured at Marine Boot Camp in San Diego.

A few years back, my son Justin was injured at this same boot boot camp during basic training. In spite of the injuries, he was still able to complete the training and two deployments to Afghanistan. A marine recruit is fiercely loyal, both to his country and to his fellow marines, so to be injured during this time not only affects them physically, but emotionally as well.

So, Mike and his family joins with other families each year to visit with injured recruits, and to deliver patriotic bags filled with lots of donated goodies to these discouraged recruits. Perhaps the most uplifting part of the visit is the delivery of hundreds of letters of encouragement from children and others during this time of healing. Many of the recruits have said that they were very close to giving up, but the letters gave them a renew resolve to complete the training so that they could fulfill their mission to serve and protect our country as a US Marine. The recruits also attempt to answer as many of the letters that they can.

More information on the event (including pictures from previous years) can be found at Mike's Easter Letter post.

We'd like to encourage anyone who would like to write a letter to a recruit, please send it to arrive by March 27, 2017 at the following address:

Marine Moms Online Easter Project
C/O Mike Atkinson
3755 Avocado Blvd
Box 402
La Mesa CA 91941

We're hoping for thousands of letters this year to help brighten up the recruits' Easter holiday. Please also pass this along to any friends and groups that might like to help. This will not only bless our recruits, but everyone who participates as well. Thank you.